This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week – a time to highlight this major cause of injury among children and advocate for its prevention. But, we must remember that dog bites occur year round, they affect people of all ages and populations and, most importantly, any dog can bite.
To minimize the risks associated with dog bites, children, families and communities must practice safe dog interactions and responsible dog ownership on a daily basis.
Dog bites are a bigger problem than most people realize. Approximately 4.5 million people in the US are bit by dogs annually and there are over 1,000 visits to emergency departments for dog bite injuries each day. Our Cincinnati Children’s emergency department cares for more than 300 child dog bite victims each year.
Children represent a large number of dog bite victims and injuries range from minor abrasions to severe or fatal wounds.
Of all children, those ages 5-9 years have the highest risk of dog bites. Bites to this age group tend to be from a known dog (such as a friend or neighbor’s dog) and are often in circumstances where the dog is protecting its property (such as when a child is in another person’s home or yard, or when a child engages with the dog’s toys, food or puppies.)
Infants and younger children have a highest risk of more severe or fatal dog bites, as the bites they experience often occur to the head or neck. These bites often occur in their own home by the family dog or another visiting dog when there has been limited adult supervision.
Although some people may debate the breed issue, it’s most important to remember that all dogs can and may bite given the right circumstances.
Risk of a dog bite increases if the dog is eating, caring for puppies, chained or contained behind a fence. Dogs are also more likely to bite when they are ill, excited, scared or surprised – such as being abruptly woken from sleep. As the number of dogs in a house increases, so does the chance of having a dog bite.
Always supervise an infant or child that is near a dog!
Teach children and practice how to be safe around dogs:
- Do not disturb a dog that is caring for puppies, eating or sleeping.
- Do not reach through or over a fence to pet a dog.
- Do not run past a dog.
- Do not approach any unfamiliar dog.
- Always ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting a dog.
- Before petting a dog, always let the dog sniff your hand.
Be a responsible dog owner:
- Consult with your veterinarian before getting a dog to determine what type of dog will best fit your household.
- Keep your dog healthy and up-to-date with vaccinations.
- Socialize and train your dog.
- Spay or neuter your dog.
- Do not chain your dog.
- Be alert for signs of dog aggression and seek professional advice from a veterinarian if it is noticed.
If an unfamiliar dog approaches you or your children, do not run from the dog, scream or look it directly in the eye. Stand still with your arms to the side and act “like a tree.” If the dog knocks you over, roll into a ball, cover your head and neck with your hands and be still.
Dogs are wonderful and very much a part of many American families, but we must never forget that they are animals and they can be unpredictable. Please be aware of the risks associated with dog bites, teach your children safe interactions and always practice responsible dog ownership.